Sunday, June 17, 2018

Conrad Cantzem: Best foot forward and never say die

In the English language, left and right are not opposites and originally left meant weak or the weak side. Our lexicon contains many references including and when you are paid "a left handed compliment", i.e. an insult. Starting off on a journey with the left foot in days of old meant bad luck for the journey. In days gone by, people always put their best foot forward for a journey and that was usually the right foot for good luck. Anatomically, for most the right leg is stronger because of the way the foetus sits in the womb. Marching armies were the exception and started their campaigns with the left foot forward e.g. "left, right" etc. This was deliberate and sent a clear message to all foes there would be no mercy given to them.

From Roman times the significance of colours of shoes was established as a means of social classification. The more expensive the dyes the more exclusive they were. Red was at first the colour for high magistrates but later became the Emperor's prerogative. During the reign of Caesar Nero, senators suspected of being Christians were stripped of their red boots. Black or white was the preferred colours for senators and women's shoes were ornamented with pearls and embroidery and included subtle or brighter colours.

In modern fashion red is considered the most daring an outrageous shoe colour and designers consider the wearer to be blatantly sexy. Black and navy are more sombre inhibited shoe colours and tend to be worn by sensible thoughtful types. The exception to this rule is black patent leather which might infer the wearer prefers an exotic life style. The colour white has become associated with Chavs e.g. Essex girls (an English euphemism for flighty types of girls). Leather shoes are favoured by committed types who like their lives to be structured. These people are not impulsive and tend to be duty bound. Buckles show a desire to be in control, with the bigger the buckle, the more important you are. Through the century’s styles and colours reflected class distinctions.

Conrad Cantzem (1867 - 1945) was a "down in the heel" Broadway actor in the thirties and forties. He was more often seen wandering the New York theatre streets peddling than on "the boards" and in front of the footlights. However, it was not until his death in 1945 did anyone know Conrad had saved all his life and left a trust which guaranteed fellow actors, devoid of money, the opportunity to buy good shoes. As the actor stated in his will he had suffered enough indignities in life and always associated his bad luck as an actor with his worn out shoes. Not for his fellow thespians because Conrad left a trust which to this day provides hard up actors with good shoes. Provided they are card carrying members of the actor’s union and can present a receipt of purchase for shoes, they are entitled to forty dollars US subsidy. The only stipulation is shoes must cost less than 80 dollars and actors may claim rebates only once per year, but can claim every year.

(Video Courtesy: loafersguy Youtube Channel)

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